Elected County Officials See Improving US Economy

The National Association of Counties has reported that its members are more upbeat on the direction of the economy and less critical on the direction of the nation than the general public.

The National Association of Counties has reported that its members are more upbeat on the direction of the economy and less critical on the direction of the nation than the general public.

The poll, which surveyed 500 elected county officials in June and July, found 27% thought the war in Iraq and terrorism were the most important problems facing the U.S. Nine percent cited immigration as the most important problem and 8% cited fuel prices.

The survey found 52% of county elected officials rated economic conditions in the nation as either excellent (9%) or good (43%), while only 36% of the general public rates the economy as either excellent (6%) or good (30%), according to a Time Magazine/Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas Inc. (SRBI) poll released in June.

Elected officials also were less critical of the direction the nation is heading than the public. In the Time/SRBI poll, 66% of the public said that the nation was on the wrong track. However, only 50% of county elected officials expressed that opinion and 37% said that the nation is heading in the right direction.

In the poll, 52% of elected officials said that economic conditions in their counties were improving while 26% said they were getting worse.

Also, 37% said that passing their budget in 2006 was more difficult than in prior years, which was decline of 19 points from 2004 when 56% said budgeting was more challenging than in previous years.

The officials reported less fiscal stress this year, with 28% saying they had to reduce the size of government in response to fiscal constraints. In the 2004 poll, 39% said their county had to shrink the size of government to address fiscal concerns. And 60% of elected officials cited “revenue and unfunded mandates” as the biggest problems facing their counties.

Trust Fund Endorsed

Three Pennsylvania Republicans in the House of Representatives have endorsed a bill to establish the Clean Water Trust, a proposed $7.5 billion annual fund dedicated to clean water infrastructure program.

Representatives Phil English, Melissa Hart, and Tim Murphy said they would press for passage of the bill this fall.

Little time remained in the legislative session. The House was tentatively scheduled to recess on Oct. 6 and the Senate on Sept. 29 so that congressmen can campaign for the November elections. Congress is expected to reconvene after the elections for a “Lame Duck” session that would focus on appropriations bills.

The water bill, H.R. 4560, would create a trust fund, similar to those used for highway and airport infrastructure projects. It would finance construction grants, pay for unfunded federal mandates, and improve utility management based on state-determined priorities.

English said, “America’s aging water infrastructure is in desperate need of extensive and expensive repair and replacement. If the federal government does not act to establish a funding method to provide for these much needed improvements, the American public will have to suffer the consequences.”

He said older cities, especially those on the East Coast, are struggling to maintain sewer systems that are up to 100 years old.

English said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated the clean water funding gap to be $300 to $500 billion over the next 20 years and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), has estimated Pennsylvania has more than $8 billion in unmet wastewater infrastructure needs.

USGS Reports On Well Contamination

The U.S. Geological Survey has found chemical contamination in thousands of privately owned wells used for drinking water.

The Interior Department agency’s first national-scale assessment of the subject evaluated data from 19,000 private wells in every state and Puerto Rico.

USGS said inorganic compounds were noted in the well water tests. Arsenic exceeded the EPA’s drinking water standards in 11% of tests and nitrate in 8%. Uranium, mercury, and fluoride also exceeded standards at smaller percentages.

It said organic compounds rarely exceeded drinking water standards although atrazine, metolochlor, simazine, methyl tertiary butyl ether and chloroform were all detected in more than 5% of the wells sampled.

USGS noted that water quality of the privately owned wells is not federally regulated or nationally monitored, so the study provides a previously nonexistent perspective on the quality of the self-supplied drinking water resources used by 45 million Americans.

The agency said it is expanding its research to include a broader list of contaminants from a selected set of wells. The goal is to further investigate geographic patterns and the co-occurrence of multiple contaminants. Release of that data is expected next year.

Groups Call for Review Of TMDL Ruling

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies (NACWA) and the Wet Weather Partnership (WWP) have urged the U.S. Supreme Court to review an appeal involving total maximum daily loads (TMDL).

They filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the appeal by the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority regarding an April 25, 2006, decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

The court held that daily pollutant load limits are required for all TMDLs and that the seasonal and annual averages for dissolved oxygen and total suspended solids for the Anacostia River in Washington, D.C., which EPA found to protect water quality, were not valid.

The DC utility is one of 80 NACWA and WWP member agencies that operate combined sewer overflow (CSO) collection systems serving nearly 45 million people.

NACWA and WWP said CSO communities have spent about $5 billion to develop and implement plans, many of which are based on TMDLs with seasonal or annual limits approved by EPA. If the D.C. court ruling is not reversed, they said many communities may have to revise those plans, potentially wasting millions of dollars already spent.

NACWA and WWP argued the D.C. Circuit’s decision conflicts with a 2001 ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which came to the opposite conclusion.

“This ruling in the D.C. Circuit will severely hamper efforts by the nation’s clean water agencies to do their jobs cleaning up rivers and streams using practical, common-sense approaches,” said Alexandra Dunn, NACWA general counsel.

“The conflict of opinion between the D.C. Circuit and the Second Circuit creates confusion as to how we’re supposed to do that, especially in situations where rivers, such as D.C.’s Anacostia, cross state lines. Annual pollutant loadings could be allowed on one stretch of river and not another,” she said.

Study Examines River Evaporation Losses

A New Mexico project to provide more accurate estimates of evaporation losses on a river could have long-term benefits for some water utilities.

Researchers from the Bureau of Reclamation, the Los Alamos National Laboratory and the University of Iowa conducted the experiments on the Rio Grande River n New Mexico. They used a Raman Light Distance and Ranging (LIDAR) laser along the river and measured how much light was reflected back from water molecules in the atmosphere.

Sponsors said the research would provide water managers with more accurate estimates of the natural evaporation losses from active channel surface flows and exposed soils.

They said evaporation, along with transpiration by the riparian and agricultural communities, represents about two-thirds of the total losses from Rio Grande surface water between Cochiti and Elephant Butte reservoirs

More in Infrastructure Funding